Taking Time to Reflect

Do you ever feel you need to pause and reflect?

In a world where we are always asking ourselves “what’s next?” I think it can be equally, if not more, important to look back and ask, “how did that go?”.

At work, we run retrospective sessions regularly with our teams to allow us to reflect on the previous week. We share what went well and how we could improve. I find this such a powerful practice, but it’s only recently I’ve begun to embrace retrospectives more personally.

It started with journaling more regularly. I write about experiences or situations I found challenging, and this has helped me understand myself better. Now, I want to extend the retrospective practice to reflect on the activities I do such as, work, fitness and now blogging.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post. I’ve decided to take a two-week break from writing here. Mainly because I’m taking an overdue holiday, but also to reflect on the experience of writing.

I think these moments to pause for reflection are vital to improving. I’m looking forward to looking back and how it will inform what comes next!

Ask More Questions

Today I was told a great consulting proposal should be made up of 70% questions and 30% answers. While it’s a rough guide, it’s surprising. Writing a proposal is a response to a set of problems you have been tasked with solving, yet this suggests questions are equally, if not more, valuable than answers.

Often we think we must have the answers to be credible, but it’s not a realistic expectation. Knowing what the right questions to ask is a long term career, mostly because nobody knows the correct answer to every question.

Finding a Purpose for Posting

Over the last six weeks of writing this blog, I haven’t put too much thought into selecting the topics I write about. I’ve just written about what interested me and hoped it would provide value to you as a reader.

Now, after almost thirty posts, I’ve begun to see a pattern emerge that has given me clarity on my interests and has helped give purpose to my writing. I believe my purpose is:

“To enable others to improve themselves, their organisations and society.”

That’s a grand purpose, that needs breaking down. I think there are three key areas, which I’m representing using this helpful triangle!

Individuals: To achieve anything, we need to work with ourselves. We need to be high functioning human beings to survive and thrive in the world today. Understanding our own psychology, how to manage our mind, and how to manage our work are all topics that I would like to explore more.

Organisations: To achieve many things, we need to work with others. Finding and fulfilling our individual purpose means improving the way we lead, manage and organise ourselves to work together. I hope by writing on these topics I can play a part in improving how we work.

Products: To achieve some things, we need to know what to do. The right people working together well need to create consumable products or services to release the value they’ve created. Understanding your customers, market, and how to provide value to them is how you translate the creativity, knowledge and energy of a group of individuals into a consumable product others can benefit from.

These areas are intentionally broad, but they may become narrower over time. For the moment, they give me the scope to continue to explore and learn widely, while also providing a guide for my writing. 

I hope this frame helps you know what you’ll find here in future!

Standing in the Tragic Gap

By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.”

Parker J. Palmer

Parker Palmer, has a concept he calls ‘The Tragic Gap‘. The gap sits between the world we know is possible and the world as we know it currently is. If we want to get closer to the world we believe is possible, we must stand within the tragic gap.

We all experience barriers and hurdles in our lives that make it more difficult for us to achieve what we want. Many of my friends experience obstacles that I do not as a white man in a position of privilege. Yet, these same friends also come from a place of privilege with some groups far more minimised than they are.

The world we live in isn’t fair, and for reasons, I don’t fully understand there are large groups in society that are minimised and repressed. As individuals, we will struggle to change this, but we can all choose to be part of the change.

This is when we must stand in the tragic gap. Standing in the gap is hard, it’s in the gap that the world will try to change you, but if you can hold firm, you can create the space for you and others to change the world.

It takes real courage to stand in solidarity within the gap, but we all have the energy and power to do so. We probably can’t change the world as individuals, but we can choose to stand in the gap.

The Secret to Achieving Your Goals

The secret to achieving your goals is to place more bets.

It only takes one bet to pay off to move you forward and the more bets you place the better you get at predicting what will work and what won’t. You will experience failure more than most but in the long term, those failures will be dwarfed by the impact the successes create.

I’m finding more and more that when I feel stuck and nothing is working out for me, it’s because I’ve been taking fewer bets. The quickest way to get unstuck is to place a bet, take action and see if it pays off.

Remember, the world rewards NOT those who are most talented but those who are the most consistent, so turn up every day, place more bets and double down on what works.

Then repeat until you achieve your goals. I think you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!

Why is it Challenging to Connect The Dots?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”

Steve Jobs

In his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs talks about planning for the future. Looking back he reflected that it would have been impossible to see how some of the things he did early in his career would help him achieve what he did in the future. It was only after the events that he could connect the dots and see how he got there.

Steve was right, often, we can only connect the dots backwards, but why is that?

Imagine we have four dots. These dots could represent events in your life, people in a company or nodes within a system. If we try to map all the possible links between two of these dots, you can see there are six and if we form all the possible patterns there are sixty-four.

This is quite easy to calculate, we can all work this out without much thinking. This is why we can all connect the dots forwards on simple tasks we have done many times before because the number of possible patterns is quite low. So, what happens when we increase the number of dots?

Number of DotsNumber of LinksNumber of Patterns
104535 trillion
126473.8 quintillion

As you can see the number of possible patterns grows exponentially compared to the number of dots. We only have a small number of dots but can you imagine how many there are in a human system or how many dots make up the events and experiences in your life?

In this simple example, we made the dots visible, but in life, we often don’t even know how many dots there are. Even if we did there would be so many we could never predict the future pattern because they are simply too numerous to imagine.

This is why you can’t connect the dots forward, though I suspect many individuals and even more organisations will continue to try!

Why We Need An Experimental Approach To House Buying

I’m currently trying to buy a flat in London. For those of you that have also experienced this process, you’ll know it’s challenging!

Like so many others, I began my search with high expectations but, unfortunately, reality has gradually reduced these over the past few months and now I have begun to reach an equilibrium between my expectations and my budget.

Now, I have discovered another issue. Buying a house is a complex decision, made within an adaptive system, with a significant number of unknown unknowns. How do you actually make a decision to purchase?

As a product manager I face similarly complex decisions in adaptive systems regularly. In these situations my preferred approach would be to probe the system using safe-to-fail experiments against the biggest risks or assumptions to get a better understanding of how the system would react to my inputs. However, this approach is not so easily applied to property purchasing decisions.

So I’m advocating for a new approach. We should be able to live in the property we plan to purchase for a few days, maybe a week, to test the unknowns that put our purchase at risk.

The car industry has been doing this for years to allow prospective buyers to test how a new car would fit into their lives. A quick Google search suggests BMW, Mini, Mercedes and Seat will all give over 24 hours for you to try their products.

So why couldn’t we do the same with houses? Then we may all be able to make more informed decisions after testing one of the biggest purchases we make in our lives, in real-world conditions.

In the absence of this… wish me luck!